» Probate / Estate Administration

What is the federal estate tax exemption for 2019?

For 2019, an individual can shield up to $11.4 million of exempt assets from federal estate tax.  For a married couple, the exempt amount is $22.8 million. 

My grandfather had a trust but he has property up north that is not in the trust. I’m the trustee, what do I do?

Often an individual creates a trust but it is not fully funded upon his or her death in that one or more assets are not in the trust’s name. Most attorneys will draft what is called a “pour over” will to remedy this situation. A “pour over” will is a will in which the only beneficiary is the trust. While a probate estate will need to be opened, once the asset has been probated, it will be “poured” over into the trust so that the asset can be distributed according to the terms of the trust. If there is no will, then the probate estate of the non-trust assets may have different beneficiaries than the trust.

Do I have to wait to distribute money to my siblings until the estate is closed?

No. A personal representative has the discretion to make a partial distribution of assets during the administration of the estate. You cannot make a distribution to siblings and then have insufficient funds to pay creditors or taxes. However, say you have $100,000.00 in the estate with five beneficiaries. Assuming that there are no significant creditors or taxes owing, the personal representative can make a partial distribution of $10,000.00 to each of the beneficiaries. Once final expenses have been made and the estate is ready to close, the personal representative can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

My stepmother is the personal representative of my father’s estate. She wants to give my father’s house to my stepbrother, who has been living there since my father moved into residential care and is also a beneficiary. My siblings and I oppose this. Can she do this?

No. As personal representative, your stepmother owes an undivided duty of loyalty to all beneficiaries. She cannot favor her son over another beneficiary. She must have the property appraised by an independent appraiser and she can then offer the house to any and all beneficiaries who wish to purchase it for its fair market value.

Do I have to have the court’s permission to sell my grandmother’s house in an estate?

It depends. Typically, once an individual is appointed personal representative, he or she has complete authority to sell real estate in a decedent’s estate. However, there are certain counties, for example, Wayne County, in which the probate court requires court approval for any sale of real property. You must be aware that if you have an estate in one of these counties, you will have to file a petition for approval of the sale of real property before you sell a house or other real property.

My father had stocks when he died. How do I value them?

You need to indicate the value of the stock on the date of your father’s death. Websites such as Yahoo Stock will provide historical values for a specific date.

What value should I put for each of my father’s vehicles on the inventory?

You can use blue book value for any vehicle.

What amount should I put for furniture and personal property on the inventory?

Most courts allow you to value furniture and personal property at yard sale value. However, if the decedent had personal property of notable value, such as a piano or painting, you will need to indicate the appraised value of that item of personal property. Likewise, collections of coins, stamps and guns with value should be valued separately on the inventory.

How do I value real property for an estate inventory?

There are several ways to value real property for an estate inventory. You can use a formula of 2 x the State Equalized Value (SEV) for the year that the decedent died. The SEV can be found on a property tax statement or on the tax assessor’s website. For example, if the SEV is $150,000.00, the inventory value if $300,000.00. You can also deduct any mortgage on the property from the inventory value. Another way to value real estate is to have an appraisal performed. An appraisal will give a more accurate value than using the SEV since the SEV may not reflect the housing market. Some courts will also accept a realtor’s sales analysis as a way to value real property.

The court sent me a notice about filing an inventory. What is that?

An inventory is a State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) form that you fill out and file with the Court. The inventory lists all of the assets of the estate and provides a value of each asset as of the date of death of the decedent. You are only required to list assets of the estate. Any asset that was in joint names or had a beneficiary designated when the decedent died is not an estate asset. Only those assets that were in the decedent’s name alone or held as a tenant in common need to be listed. The court wants to know what assets are in the estate and the total value of the estate. The court will calculate a fee based on the total value of the estate.